Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Colleran’s escape act helps UMass softball salvage sweep over St. Joe’s

Colleran escapes sixth-inning jam

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(Collegian file photo)

(Collegian file photo)

(Collegian file photo)

By Amin Touri, Assistant Sports Editor

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It nearly slipped away from the Massachusetts softball team on Sunday, but Meg Colleran had other ideas.

UMass (20-10, 9-0 Atlantic 10) beat Saint Joseph’s 8-4 to complete the sweep and stay unbeaten in conference play, but the Minutewomen needed some clutch pitching from their senior ace to do so.

After freshman Kiara Oliver cruised through the first few innings, allowing only one run through four, the Hawks (13-17, 2-7 A-10) cut into an 8-1 UMass lead with a pair of runs in the fifth, before chasing Oliver early in the next frame.

Colleran entered the game in the sixth inning with a runner on and no outs, and the five-run lead looked vulnerable after two quick singles loaded the bases. The Minutewomen, however, had faith.

“I’m never worried when Megan is on the mound, because she’s the type of person that will get it done, no matter what it takes,” said junior Kaycee Carbone. “So for her to just completely flip the switch and get out of it was huge for the team. She’s a great leader with that type of stuff, so it was awesome to see her do that.”

Colleran is a notorious groundball pitcher, and quickly got Taryn Grober to ground into a fielder’s choice to get the first out at home.

“I’m usually thinking ground ball, because the faster we can get outs, the better,” Colleran said. “Trying to get someone out on the first couple pitches is what I try to do in those situations, to maybe get a ground ball and turn a double play.”

She got another grounder a couple pitches later, but shortstop Kaitlyn Stavinoha had to sprawl to her left to keep it in the infield and the runners were safe at every base as a run scored to cut the lead to 8-4.

Suddenly St. Joe’s was one swing away from a tie game, and UMass coach Kristi Stefanoni came out to the circle and brought her entire defense in for a talk.

“When I called a timeout and brought everyone in [Colleran] was the only one I was making eye contact with, mostly,” Stefanoni said. “I wasn’t really speaking to her, I was speaking to the group in a sense, I told them we needed to lock in, be competitive and do not give them hope that they can come back.”

Give them hope, Colleran would not — she caught Kirstin Cox looking at strike three for a huge second out, and Molly Kapala could only manage a little dribbler back to Colleran, who tossed it over to first to kill the rally and escape the jam.

“I just felt a different energy from her when I left the circle,” Stefanoni said, and I was like, ‘okay. She’s got this. She’s going to be fine.’ I can’t explain how I feel when I leave a huddle, but I knew she was going to be just fine.”

Colleran shut the door in the seventh to close it out, and though she wasn’t credited with a save, her sixth-inning escape act was the game’s biggest moment.

“[Colleran] did a really good job,” Stavinoha said. “She always comes in super confident on the mound and we’re confident in her, it’s always good when she can come in and shut them down like that.”

The win leaves UMass a perfect 9-0 atop the A-10 standings, with a 10-game winning streak to boot. The Minutewomen were, at times, a bit shaky this weekend, but they’re still off to their best conference start in a long time.

“I just think we have a really good group,” Colleran said. “I know you’ve probably heard me say this 20 times, but this is my favorite group to play with. We’re doing what we know we can do and what we can expect, and hopefully other people are starting to realize that this is the group, this is what we can do and this is what we’re capable of.”

UMass will play a couple of non-conference games this week, heading to Boston College for a 4 p.m. game on Tuesday, before traveling to Poughkeepsie, New York to play a doubleheader at Marist on Thursday.

Amin Touri can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @Amin_Touri.

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